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You know, sometimes the very best presents are the ones that you weren't expecting. Those tiny little surprises that you sometimes find tucked under the tree.
That's sort of what happened with "Maxine's Christmas Carol." This animated holiday special wasn't originally on the list of versions of "A Christmas Carol" that I'd put together, all of the TV shows & movies that I was looking forward to reviewing. But then -- as I began to look for ways to stretch out this "Scrooge U" series from Thanksgiving to New Years -- I began casting about for additional versions of Charles Dickens' classic holiday tale to write about. And one day while I was Googling, "Maxine's Christmas Carol" came up.
So I did a little research and found out that this version of "A Christmas Carol" was actually inspired by a line of greeting cards. Maybe you're familar with Shoebox Greetings? Which always makes a point of describing itself as " ... a tiny little division of Hallmark" ?
Which -- to be honest -- seemed kind of odd to me. I mean, sure. I guess that having Maxine (I.E. That bitter old woman who's been a Shoebox mainstay ever since this quirky line of cards was first introduced back in 1986) play the Scrooge character in this story sort of made sense. But would this razor thin premise really be enough to carry an entire half hour-long-holiday special?
Surprisingly, yes. "Maxine's Christmas Carol" is a tart holiday treat. It's kind of surprising that a corporate giant like Hallmark -- which makes billions annually of the exploitation of Mothers Day, Fathers Day, Easter et al -- would put together a show where the title character carps so heartily about the commercialization of Christmas. But that's just one of the subversive charms to be found in this particular holiday special.
Copyright 1999 Hallmark Home Entertainment
"Maxine's Christmas Carol" really wastes no time in thumbing its nose at December 25th. While the rest of her neighborhood is decorated with bright dancing lights & mechanical elves, Maxine's house only has a simple banner hanging off of her roof. Which reads: "Let it snow ... somewhere else."
As December 24th is getting underway, all Maxine really wants to is get over to the strip mall and pick up a box of burritos of a stick. So that she and her dog, Floyd, can then observe their annual holiday tradition. Which is to ignore Christmas entirely by sitting inside their house with the shades drawn and watching kung-fu movies for 24 hours straight.
But the second she steps out the door, there's the mailman wishing Maxine a "Happy Holidays" and then trying to drop off a special Christmas package. Already in Scrooge mode, she refuses delivery. Back -- while she isn't looking -- Floyd slips that mysterious box into the house.
Then Maxine climbs into her car & begins her trip to the market. But that trip then gets disrupted when Maxine has to come to the rescue of her next door neighor, Billy. Who's being pummeled with snowballs by two local bullies. This crabby old lady & cute pre-teen quickly join forces and soon those two bullies are sent scurrying.
Grateful for her help, Billy invites Maxine to his family's Christmas party. The old lady immediately begs off, saying that she doesn't "do Christmas." That said, Billy still insists that she come by his house that night. Maxine mumbles a caustic aside as she & Floyd quickly motor off.
But no matter how hard this old lady tries & keep the holiday at bay, there's just no escaping Christmas today. As Maxine arrives at the strip mall, the Ladies Auxiliary is there collecting money for the poor. And the folks who run the Quikkie Mart keep trying to direct her attention to their shelf full of last-minute Christmas specials ("Holiday Hammer. Only $5), when all Maxine really wants to do is get her Burritos on a stick and leave. Even the pretentious barista at the coffee house next door tries to entice her with all of his special holiday blends. When all Maxine really wants is "Coffee. Black."
From there, the crabby old lady & her dog head back home and hunker down on the couch. Where -- after turning on the television and doing some channel surfing (And then learn that their viewing choices are "It's a Wonderful Life," the colorized version of "It's a Wonderful Life" and then the shudder-inducing "It's a Wonderful Life on Ice") -- Maxine then throws down the remote in disgust and says: "Two satellite dishes, 100 different channels, and there's not a single kung-fu movie on."
It's just about this time that that mysterious holiday package that Floyd slipped into the house earlier explodes. And out of all of that smoke & debris comes the ghost of Marlene, the woman who used to be in charge of office supplies back where Maxine used to work.
Obviously, Marlene is standing in for the ghost of Jacob Marley in "Maxine's Christmas Carol." Still, given that this woman used to be an office supplies manager, it's a neat comic touch that -- instead of having a heavy length of chains, locks & keys weighing this woman -- Marlene is toting an over-sized length of paperclips that have been clipped together.
Anyway ... Marlene issues the usual warning to Maxine (I.E. "Change your ways") then begins to tell the crabby old lady about the three spirits who will soon be visiting her. But Maxine then interrupts Marlene, saying: "What? You think that you're the only one who ever read Dickens. Three ghosts. I get it."
After Marlene disappears, the first spirit on the scene is the Ghost of Christmas Past. Who -- in "Maxine's Christmas Carol" -- has the persona of a flighty Valley Girl. This holiday spirit then flies the old woman & her dog back to Maxine's youth. Where we learn that Maxine lost her Christmas spirit at a very young age. All because her childhood friends sneered at Maxine's homemade gifts.
By the way, do those three little girls look familar? They should. They're actually the younger versions of those three women who were collecting for the poor outside of the Quikkie Mart.
Next up is the Ghost of Christmas Present. Who reveals to Maxine how disappointed Billy was when the old lady opted to blow off his family's Christmas party. Which meant that Billy was never able to give Maxine the homemade present that he'd made for her.
And then the Ghosts of Christmas Future arrive. Who are perhaps the most inspired touch in this entire Xmas special. Given that these holiday spirits are played by aliens.
After these tiny creatures beam the old lady & her dog up aboard their ship, Maxine cries "Look out, Floyd! Here come the probes!" But the aliens then explain that there'll be no probing tonight. They're just there to show the old lady what's going to happen now all because Maxine opted to blow off the Christmas party at Billy's house.
So this spaceship zooms into the future. 5000 A.D., to be exact. And as the aliens & Maxine peer out the window, they see ... The finale of "Planet of the Apes." With a rifle-toting gorilla on horseback in the foreground and a melted version of the Statue of Liberty in the background.
The aliens mumble "Oops. Too far." After resetting the controls on their craft for 2025, they then take Maxine to see the appropriate Christmas Future. Where Billy has now become a coldhearted businessman who drives his staff unmercilessly. All because that mean old lady who lived next door never came to his family's Christmas party and accepted his homemade gift.
Somewhat touched by what she sees, Maxine now turns to the aliens and says: "Okay. I get it. But do I have to be nice all the time? Or just for tonight?"
These tiny creatures quickly confer, then tell the old lady that just being nice for tonight -- Christmas Eve -- would be okay.
As the aliens drop Maxine off in front of her house back in the present day, the old lady then asks them one final question: "What about Roswell?"
As their ship shoots off into the stars, the little creatures cry out the window: "Sorry. Wasn't us."
With that, Maxine does exactly what she promised to do. Which is make a token appearance at that Christmas party next door and sort of act nice to those who are attending this shindig. Billy -- of course -- is thrilled to see the old lady show up. So that he can then present Maxine with his homemade Christmas present. Which is a painted rock.
Mind you, Maxine has a gift of her own to bestoy upon Billy. It's a pair of sunglasses like the ones the old lady always wears. Maxine explains to Billy that " ... they help block out a lot of the idiocy in the world."
And -- with that -- "Maxine's Christmas Carol" is over. It's a funny, fast paced little holiday special. One that slyly sends up Dickens' classic holiday tale while -- at the same time -- firing lots of pot shots at the commercialization of Christmas. Which (to my way of thinking) makes this animated program a pretty ballsy thing for the folks at Shoebox Greeting to have produced. Given the message that comes through -- loud & clear -- in this program is that "Homemade gifts are the best gifts." Which I'm sure isn't a sentiment that the folks back at Hallmark would like the public at large to embrace.
Anywho ... If you ever stumble across a copy of "Maxine's Christmas Carol," be sure & check it out. For there are an awful lot of laughs to be found inside of that tiny little VHS from Shoebox Greetings.
Tomorrow ... It's yet another animated version of "A Christmas Carol." Though -- this time around -- Simon Callow voices Dickens' miserable miser.
>>"From there, the crabby old lady & her dog head back home and hunker down on the couch. Where -- after turning on the television and doing some channel surfing (And then learn that their viewing choices are "It's a Wonderful Life," the colorized version of "It's a Wonderful Life" and then the shudder-inducing "It's a Wonderful Life on Ice")<<
Oh, good grief--HOW OLD is the "IAWL on every channel" joke? >_< (Especially since we may now have an entire generation who remembers the former public-domain movie as now being bought out and hidden away only once a year?--Our local cheapo-PBS stations that used to depend on it have now taken to beating "Meet John Doe" into the ground, for lack of anything else)... Just one of the gags that need a stake driven through it, and the (yuk, yuk!) Planet of the Apes gags didn't help much either.